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Hanover Finance Committee Worries Over Budget Increase

Voting for Hanover officers and four zoning amendments will take place by ballot from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14 at the Hanover High School gym. The remainder of the articles, including the budget, will be discussed and voted on at 7 p.m. that evening at the Hanover High School gym.

Hanover — If the proposed $22.2 million budget passes next week, the municipal tax rate would increase nearly 3.4 percent — about the same increase as last year. But members of the Hanover Finance Committee are saying the increase is too large.

In a rare move, the Hanover Finance Committee — an advisory committee that has the ability to issue nonbinding votes — voted 5-2 against the budget, citing that the tax increase is too large and should increase at a rate closer to inflation.

During the last several years, the Selectboard has taken the stance that it will not absorb “downshifting” from the state level on its budget by cutting services and will instead pass the burden along to tax payers.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Kristi Fenner said it’s rare for the committee to vote against the budget, but committee members have heard from residents that it’s becoming too expensive to live in Hanover.

“The majority of the committee felt that it’s just getting too expensive to handle the downshifting from the state,” Fenner said. “The town is going to have to start absorbing some of that downshifting.”

The proposed municipal tax rate is up 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to $4.32. The owner of a $400,000 home would see their tax bill increase by $56 annually for a total of $1,728.

The majority of the finance committee also argued that all excess money in the Undesignated general fund balance should have been used to lower the tax rate.

When the undesignated fund has additional money, that money can be used to offset the tax rate. This year, the Selectboard could have tapped into $240,000 from the undesignated fund balance, but they chose to use only half of it and save the additional money in case it’s needed to offset the tax rate next year.

The $22.2 million budget is a 2.4 percent increase over the current year, and is primarily due to a 20 percent increase in retirement contributions for employees and increased cost of road paving materials.

Town officials are anticipating an increase of $250,000 that it owes to the New Hampshire Retirement System. And the town has seen the cost of paving materials increase from $35 a ton to $80 a ton in the last four years. The highway department asked for a $70,000 increase for its paving budget, but the Selectboard only allocated an additional $40,000. The Selectboard plans to incrementally increase the paving budget during the next two to three years.

The town has also seen a decrease in new building permits, which has resulted in decreased revenue. And the town has to make up about $72,000 in reduced tax revenue after residents voted at last year’s Town Meeting to increase the veteran’s tax credit from $50 to $500.

The town will also begin the final year of a three-year bargaining agreement with employees, who will receive a 2 percent cost of living increase.

In addition to the $22.2 million budget, the town plans to spend an additional $1.8 million in reserves. The reserves include $250,000 that will pay for the replacement of the Lebanon Street water main, as well as $21,900 that will be spent on new mid-block pedestrian crossings signs and lighting.

Residents will also be asked to give the initial go-ahead for the town to purchase property that could be the future home of a community gym.

The town has received a $600,000 anonymous donation to purchase a 0.4-acre parcel of land on Lebanon Street. The property was put on the market early this year, and Town Manager Julia Griffin and other town officials thought it would be a perfect location for a community gym because the parcel is adjacent to the recreation center.

“Timing was such that it was pretty late to think about adding that into the budget and it would have increased the tax rate,” Griffin said. “That’s why the donation was such a gift.”

Zoning Amendments

The warrant also includes four amendments to the zoning ordinance. One of the amendments has been proposed by Dartmouth College and would allow athletic scoreboards to display animation. Currently, the ordinance limits scoreboards to include the names of home and visiting teams, logos, team names, field names and the field donor’s name.

Dartmouth wants to replace the scoreboard at Memorial Field with a video scoreboard that could show instant replays, said Bob Ceplikas, deputy director of athletics. The amendment would still require scoreboards to be reviewed by the Zoning Board of Adjustment and they would be subject to site plan review by the Planning Board. Commercial advertising would be prohibited, Ceplikas said.

If the amendment is approved, Dartmouth will then submit an application and Ceplikas said he hopes it can be installed during the 2013 football season. Ceplikas said he doesn’t yet know the dimensions of the scoreboard.

Another amendment will allow agriculture, forestry and environmental research and education in the rural residential and forestry districts by special exception. Currently, keepers of Dartmouth Organic Farm aren’t allowed to do college level research and education on their 19-acre farm, and are restricted to only agricultural work.

Currently, no classes can be offered on the property because of zoning regulations. The amendment will allow professors to teach classes on the property or allow students to conduct research on the property. Rosi Kerr, director of sustainability at Dartmouth, said she helped propose the amendment and added that the research that would be done would not require a laboratory.

“When people think research, they think chemicals and labs and petri dishes,” Kerr said. “We’re talking ecological research. When we say lab, we think outdoor classroom.”

If the amendment passes, Kerr said she doesn’t know if other buildings would be erected on the property, but said that the land will stay consistent to its agricultural mission.

Contested Races

There are no contested Selectboard races — current Selectman Athos Rassias is running unopposed for a three-year seat — but there is a contested race for an Etna library trustee.

Elizabeth Cornell, 50, and Michelle Guiliano-King, 40, are both running for a three-year term. They both live in Etna and often volunteer on Saturdays so the library can be open for a few hours on the weekend.

Cornell has lived in Etna for nearly 10 years and said she’s running because she thinks the library is the center of the Etna village and she wants to strike a balance between progress and preservation. She said it’s an exciting time for the library because it’s being expanded, and there are many questions about how the library should grow.

If elected, Cornell said she would like to reach out to neighbors and ask them what’s best for the future of the building.

Guiliano-King has lived in Etna for nearly five years and her 8-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son often enjoy the children programs. Guiliano-King has taught a children’s program about ducks and said she doesn’t necessarily want to expand the children’s program, but keep it thriving.

She added that she thinks the expansion will allow the library to become more of community center and she hopes to encourage more community outreach.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.